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Norwich - Saying a bed and breakfast would help preserve the historic Henry Bill mansion and retain the character of the Broadway neighborhood, the Commission on the City Plan Tuesday unanimously approved a special permit for Mount Crescent Bed & Breakfast at 270 Broadway.
Owner Natalie Huey Min Lee bought the three-story, 16-room mansion in March in the hopes of creating a bed and breakfast that would cater to Chinese and Taiwanese tourists who have a strong interest in American and New England history.
Lee has been working on site plans, building code requirements and a business plan for the past several months. She already has contacted Asian tour companies, and they have expressed interest in her plans.
City regulations called for the Commission on the City Plan to approve the project based on how it affects the character of the neighborhood and its impact on traffic.
With seven guest rooms and no exterior changes to the square, brick Italianate house, its ornamental garden, large lawn, gazebo, tennis courts and five-bay garage, the commission quickly waved the requirement of a site plan review.
Commission member P. Michael Lahan said the house had once been used by Norwich Free Academy as a home economics building and at another time, it housed a child care center. The basement playroom still has its children's-size climbing wall.
Lahan said people worried that those previous uses would have destroyed the character of the house, but it was later restored as a single-family home, with noted architect Maya Lin - who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. - having done the work.
"It would be a shame to have it be broken up into condos or worse," Lahan said.
Lahan said the bed and breakfast plan would ensure that the character of the house remains intact. Even if Lee's plan to transport guests via shuttle van from the airport and to their various destinations doesn't work out, the seven vehicles expected at any one time would not affect the neighborhood, Lahan said, "any more than NFA traffic."
After the meeting, Lee said she is confident her tourism business plan will be successful and said the project could spark additional investment in Norwich.
City Historian Dale Plummer told the commission he "endorses this plan heartily." Plummer told the commission the house is a contributing structure in the Chelsea Parade national and state historic districts. He said ironically, Bill made his fortune publishing Bibles and tourism materials in different languages. He wrote materials in German to entice Germans to move to America, Plummer said.
Plummer said the Bill house has its historic details intact, while many other large houses in the area have been "altered so much."